Last week, the school board in Los Angeles made the unanimous decision to introduce a full-day kindergarten program. This move aligns with the trend seen in other districts across the country, even in states where it is not mandated by law. Starting from next fall, many schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest district in the nation with 728,000 students, are expected to transition from half-day programs to full-day kindergarten classes.
Based on current classroom and portable space availability, projections indicate that over 150 out of the district’s 430 elementary schools are prepared to make this switch. However, David Tokofsky, the board member who championed the proposal, suggests implementing the program gradually. As a result, only around 50 of the lowest-performing schools across the district may start offering full-day sessions in the 2004-05 school year, with more schools joining over the following four years. During the February 10 board meeting where the vote took place, Mr. Tokofsky expressed the belief that full-day kindergarten is a powerful step forward that has been long overdue.
The successful execution of this four-year plan largely depends on the outcome of a crucial vote by LAUSD voters on March 2. The vote concerns Measure R, a $3.8 billion school construction bond that includes $100 million allocated for the construction of additional classrooms for full-day kindergarten. Some board members suggested waiting until after the vote to decide on expanding the kindergarten program, but superintendent Roy Romer emphasized the importance of committing to full-day kindergarten regardless of the bond’s passage. If the bond fails, the district will have to adjust its strategy and timeline for implementation.
Mr. Tokofsky expects the board’s decision to serve as a catalyst for the state of California, where currently only nine districts have obtained waivers from the state education department to offer full-day programs. He hopes that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will support legislation at the state level that mandates full-day kindergarten. Mr. Tokofsky jokingly referred to the governor’s previous movie roles, saying that "’Kindergarten Cop’ is a better role for him to play than ‘Total Recall’" before his political career.
According to a new database on kindergarten statutes created by the Education Commission of the States, only nine states currently mandate school districts to provide full-day kindergarten. Early childhood experts argue that kindergarten-age children are capable of adapting to a full school day and that many already transition from half-day kindergarten to childcare programs while their parents are at work. They stress that full-day programs minimize the number of transitions children have to make during the day. The academic benefits are evident as well. During a board meeting on January 29, Deborah Stipek, the dean of education at Stanford University, presented data showing that preschool children from middle-class backgrounds perform better than disadvantaged children in kindergarten when it comes to vocabulary, number recall, and other core skills. While transitioning from half to full-day kindergarten may not completely close this gap, there is evidence that it can help narrow it. Full-day kindergartners tend to achieve at higher levels.
The Montgomery County school district in Maryland, for example, introduced full-day kindergarten four years ago, alongside other reforms in the primary grades. This move has resulted in improved math scores among their 2nd graders and has helped bridge the achievement gaps between students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Maryland is currently phasing in a new statewide requirement for full-day kindergarten, although the Montgomery County district implemented this change prior to the law taking effect. Joann Arowosegbe, the president of the California Kindergarten Association, also highlighted that the current kindergarten curriculum in the Los Angeles district fails to produce well-rounded students due to the limited time available in the half-day program. She noted that Open Court, the district’s literacy program, was designed to accommodate a full school day and recommends transitioning to full-day kindergarten.
Others expressed a similar sentiment, emphasizing that teachers would greatly appreciate the additional time that a full-day program would provide. Julie Korenstein, a board member of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), suggested that valuable lessons can be learned from the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center. This charter school in the Los Angeles district, catering to pre-K to 6th grade students, successfully financed a full-day kindergarten program by pooling various sources of federal funding and making efficient use of classroom space.
However, some educators raised concerns about the potential inequities that could arise from phasing in the program. Linda Guthrie, the secondary vice president for United Teachers Los Angeles, which is affiliated with both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, cautioned that this measure could create a divide between those who have access to full-day programs and those who do not.
In contrast, Mr. Tokofsky’s plan proposes that the program be initially implemented in schools with the lowest "academic performance index," referring to schools that have the poorest performance based on state standards.